I do not understand how the phrase "apple of my eye" connotes affection. Where and how did this phrase originate and how can it refer to something dear?

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    Any dictionary would have given you the "meaning", but users have interpreted your request as asking "why" we say you are the apple of my eye. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '15 at 5:28
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    @Mari-LouA I think it's clear that the OP understands the idiomatic meaning of "apple of my eye" but wants to know the literal meaning that gave rise to that idiomatic meaning (or in a broader sense, the etymology.) I always assumed it had something to do with apples being sweet and tasty, but from the answers it appears I was wrong. – Level River St Sep 24 '15 at 8:22
  • @steveverrill then the question posed is unclear, and if the OP wanted to know its origins, or "why" we say that idom, then he/she should edit his question, and say so. I took the question title to mean that the OP "literally" doesn't understand the meaning. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '15 at 8:29

You are right, it refers idiomatically to something that resembles an apple, that is the central part of an eye.

According to the Word Detective:

  • Before “apple of one’s eye” was used to mean “favorite,” it was used literally, as an anatomical term. The “apple of the eye” was the pupil, the aperture at the center of the human eye. At the time the phrase came into use, the pupil was erroneously thought to be a solid, round object, and it was called the “apple” because apples were the most commonly encountered spherical objects.

  • As English idioms go, “apple of one’s eye” is about as old as they get. It first appeared in print in the writings of King Aelfred way back in the ninth century, and crops up, in the modern sense of “cherished favorite,” in both the King James Bible (numerous times) and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

From the Phrase Finder:

  • Originally meaning the central aperture of the eye. Figuratively it is something, or more usually someone, cherished above others.


  • 'The apple of my eye' is exceedingly old and first appears in Old English in a work attributed to King Aelfred (the Great) of Wessex, AD 885, titled Gregory's Pastoral Care.

  • Much later, Shakespeare used the phrase in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1600:

    • *Flower of this purple dye, Hit with Cupid’s archery, Sink in apple of his eye
  • It also appears several times in the Bible; for example, in Deuteronomy 32:10 (King James Version, 1611)

    • He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
  • and in Zechariah 2:8:

    • For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
  • The phrase was known from those early sources but became more widely used in the general population when Sir Walter Scott included it in the popular novel Old Mortality, 1816:

    • "Poor Richard was to me as an eldest son, the apple of my eye."

Some additional notes from the wonderful world of ocular imagery:

  • It’s worth noting that the word “pupil” for the aperture in the eye comes from the Latin “pupilla,” meaning “little doll,” referring to the tiny reflection one sees of oneself when looking into another person’s eyes.

  • The same root, in the broader sense of “child,” gave us “pupil” meaning “student in school.” And when we say that we’d “give our eyeteeth” for something we desperately desire, we’re referring to our upper canine teeth, located directly under our eyes. Not only are these teeth immensely useful in eating, but damage to them can cause severe pain in one’s eyes.

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    No, it is not just a dictionary entry, etymology and different possible origins are not something that may be readily and easily accessible to new users, who may rightly doubt sources they are not familiar with. And the question of a possible biblical origin of the saying is interesting IMO. – user66974 Sep 24 '15 at 6:15
  • Yes, I agree but that is not the OP's question. There is no mention of origin, history or derivation. The OP simply doesn't understand its meaning. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '15 at 6:18
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    The issue is the meaning of 'apple', which can't be dealt with without referring to its etymology. Two of us understood it that way, there is more than just CV in 'simple' questions at times. :) – user66974 Sep 24 '15 at 6:20
  • @Josh61 Does your answer mean that people referred to the pupil as an apple even as old as biblical times? If not, how did the pupil change from its literal biblical word to an "apple" in the phrase? – SophArch Sep 25 '15 at 19:51
  • @SophArch - the sources refer to King James Bible , an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England which begun in 1604 and was completed in 1611. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version – user66974 Sep 25 '15 at 19:58

"The apple of the eye" wasn't originally to do with apples, the fruit. It was a phrase meaning the pupil of the eye. So it either meant that it was something "centered" in your eye or your sight (and therefore of great importance to you) or that it was as important to you as the pretty important part of your body that allowed you to see.

In early use, the figurative version was frequently in allusion to Biblical passages including Psalm 17:8: ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings’. OxfordWords Blog

  • In the original texts, is the literal Hebrew word for "apple" used, or is this a loose translation? – herisson Sep 24 '15 at 5:29
  • In answer to your edit, the focal point of the answer is in your explanation. The Biblical citation, which I added, shows that the idiom has a long history. You can rollback (undo) edits that you feel uncomfortable with. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '15 at 5:32
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    @sumelic I haven't looked too deeply into it, but at a glance it seems that in most verses the translators understood it as a metaphor, and so translated it with an English metaphor. There is apparently one instance (Zec. 2:8) where the Hebrew word could actually mean "apple", the fruit, but the meaning is debated, so the origin of the English phrase is (I think) treated as not being from the Bible but from English, around the 9th century. – Yee-Lum Sep 24 '15 at 5:36
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    @sumelic: According to Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word & Phrase Origins (1997), "The literal translation for the Hebrew phrase [in Deuteronomy 32:10], incidentally, is "You are the little man in the eye" (one's own reflection in the pupil of another's eye)." – Sven Yargs Sep 24 '15 at 18:42
  • BDB seems to suggest it has a regular meaning of "pupil". Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon usage has that meaning. – Francis Davey Mar 23 '17 at 10:40

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